While it may not be “stocked-full” of meats andvegetables like Campbell Soups — it is filling, thenafter soup comes the main dish which is a plateheaping with rice, salad, chuños and chicken orbeef. I was full after the soup. All polished off witha Fruit Zumo — or natural fruit juice.What also struck me was the independence of thechildren. Anna, a little three-year old that willfigure prominently later on, was always justwalking about — into and out of the restaurant, intoand out of the street. Parents here would probablybe charged with child neglect, but in Bolivia thiswas how children learn the ways of the world.There was a story of how at two and a half, she gotout of bed, left the house, crossed a major road,walked three blocks to find her mother to tell herthat it was time to come home and go back to bed.Mom was out celebrating.And no sooner that night did I find myself celebrating. Toasting to the Pacha Mama, toBolivia, to el chuño to la hoja sagrada — coca, andplaying many games of cacho — the Bolivian Dicegame. I think that when the night ended there wasmore than one empty caja (box) of cerveza. Butsomehow the next morning the effects of sharingand draining more than 16 one liter cervezas didnot come to haunt me…it must have been theblessings of the Pacha Mama welcoming me back to Bolivia.After a few days in El Alto it was time to make theourney back in time to Chuñavi, where 11 yearsago there was a small community of 600inhabitants, no public transportation, one church, athree-room schoolhouse, two “mini” stores, norestaurants and no electricity, because thetownspeople wanted to live “off-the-grid” and get“free” electricity via hydropower — it might seemromantic, but the project never got off the ground,so Chuñavi was sans luz for four years, two of which were during my stay. In that time I haddeveloped some lasting friendships and was blessedwith two godchildren.So after packing my gifts from the United States(crayons, coloring pads, etc), buying 25 oranges(the children never seem to get enough fruit) andpacking extra layers for warmth the three of us setout (myself, my comadre and her son). The firstwas task was finding the correct Toyota mini-vanthat went in the direction of my site. Well they usedto stop here…and so we waited…but perhaps weshould try another place, so trusting localknowledge we moved up…further down the road tomajor intersection. Aha — here were all the mini-vans. All we had to do was to look for the oneswith the luggage racks on top — those where thelong-haul ones we would need. But we wanted tofind one that was almost full, if we got on an emptyone, we would have to wait and wait while it filled up…So on we got and down the PanAmerican Highway (readtwo-lane road) we set off.
Nos Quedamos (we’re getting off)
I had to shout as Irealized that we were passing our destination. And off wetumbled with our over-stuffed bags of clothes and foodand prepared for the 30-minute hike to town. Well, it usedto be 30 minutes, when I was practiced and in shape —but now it seemed to take a bit longer (like and extra 15),but still the path was the same. It wound in and out of papa fields, quinoa and barley fields. There was theoccasional cow — “they are so skinny” pointed outFrancisco, a youth of 10 from el Alto. Yup —not much toeat out here, pretty dry and barren.After a number of breaks to drink water and find abathroom, Francisco was looking for a proper toilet…wetold him he was in the countryside and “anyplace” woulddo, we made it to the school and the bridge to nowhere. Abridge! There was a bridge, there never used to be abridge in Chuñavi. It does not even look as if cars use itand the bridge terminates at a wall of rocks. Strange,perhaps a misguided project — we thought. The school —there was the school — but in the past 11 years it haddoubled in size. The old three-room classroom had morethan tripled with the addition of a middle school, officesfor teachers as well as wash and bathrooms for thechildren. And even the old Mapa Del Mundo that wasdone with the schoolchildren was still there —a bit fadedand deteriorated. Wow progress had come to Chuñavi.We even learned that the bridge was for the cows, so thatthey could cross the river in the rainy season without fearof being swept away.As we wandered through Chuñavi it was amazing toremember the familiar faces and good times that we had.My godchild, now 13 was huge. But momand dad were grateful for the visit, gifts and oranges.They invited us in, shared soda, bread, while we sharedcoca with them. They told us how the town had grown toover 1,000 and of the new church that was built, how theynow had electricity, a new middle school, and even taxiservice from the main road.
Unfortunately Emiterio had passed away, but Fernandowas still around, we heard how Amaya lost his bus (of 44passengers) over the embankment on the way back totown from market, but fortunately most everyone wasokay. But sadly there were injuries and some that did notsurvive and the trip had been planned specially for acelebration of Chuñavi.As we left Chuñavi, in the back of a truck, I reflected thatwe had all changed. My comadre, godchild, myself hadall become older…but the important bonds of friendshipwere there as strong as before. The ride back in the truck was cold, but we watched as the sun set, the crescentmoon appear and the Southern Cross brightened in thesouthern sky.